Joe Biden calls for easing of tensions in Asian waters

Updated 27 July 2013
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Joe Biden calls for easing of tensions in Asian waters

SINGAPORE: US Vice President Joe Biden Friday called on Asian nations to reduce tensions in disputed waters across the region as Washington redoubles efforts to confront China’s growing maritime presence there.
In a flurry of diplomacy on the first day of his two-day visit to Singapore, President Barack Obama’s number two urged parties to reject bellicose threats in the South China Sea and East China Sea and “quickly” agree on rules to prevent conflict.
China claims nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea, even waters close to the shores of its smaller neighbors, a regular flashpoint with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines.
Beijing is also locked in an increasingly fractious maritime row with Japan in the East China Sea over a series of disputed islands, a source of growing concern for Washington which has a defence alliance with Tokyo.
As well as meeting with Singaporean leaders, Biden took the opportunity to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was visiting Singapore on the same day as part of tour of Southeast Asia.
“We each expressed our concern about the rising tensions in the South China Sea,” Biden told reporters after a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
“The United States urges all parties to reject coercion, intimidation and threats to the use of force,” said Biden, who arrived late Thursday from an earlier visit to India.
“We encourage the ASEAN and China to quickly reach agreement on a code of conduct,” he added.
Four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — are locked in rival claims with China and Taiwan over areas in the South China Sea.
The 10-nation grouping has been urging China to negotiate a legally binding code of conduct aimed at preventing conflict in the sea, but Beijing has said it prefers to deal with individual claimants.
Washington says it has an interest in the freedom of navigation in the sea, which hosts vital shipping lanes.
China in recent years has increasingly taken steps to enforce its claims, sparking the strongest protests from Philippines and Vietnam.
Biden in his remarks did not refer to any particular threats to the use of force or intimidation in the South China Sea.
But in June this year, a powerful arm of China’s state-run media accused the Philippines of trying to provoke Beijing and warned it could lead to aggressive Chinese action.
“If the Philippines continues to provoke China... a counterstrike will be hard to avoid,” said the commentary run by the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
On his meeting with Abe, Biden said both leaders shared the view that the US-Japan alliance plays a central role in regional peace and stability. “The vice president reaffirmed the US position on the East China Sea, including our alliance commitments,” a US statement after the meeting said.
Biden also “highlighted the US view that all sides should take steps to reduce tensions”, the statement added. Biden said he also discussed trade ties, including a US-led initiative called the Trans-Pacific Partnership which aims to establish one of the world’s biggest free trade zones.
“We’re working hard with Singapore and others to get it done in 2013,” Biden said.
Japan joined the talks for the first time this month with 11 other countries already holding negotiations — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Biden said the 12 countries account for 40 percent of world gross domestic product and would form the “core for a stronger global economic growth... in the 21st century”.
Some analysts say the TPP is part of Washington’s efforts to contain China, which is not a party to the ongoing negotiations.
China however is part of talks for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a 16-nation free-trade bloc in Asia that excludes the US. Before plunging into serious diplomacy Friday, Biden and his wife Jill were feted during a ceremony at the National Orchid Garden, where a new hybrid was named “Denrobium Joe and Jill Biden” in their honour.
“Never did I think in my wildest dreams that I would have an orchid named after me and my wife,” Biden said.



“That was beyond any expectations I ever had as a child or as an adult.”
On Saturday, Biden will visit a facility of US aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney and tour the US Navy’s littoral combat ship USS Freedom.
The warship has been deployed to Singapore and the surrounding region for the next eight months to give teeth to Washington’s strategic “pivot” towards Asia.
He will leave for Hawaii later on Saturday.


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 24 April 2018
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UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.